Thursday, March 27, 2008

Joanne’s Final Letter

This will be the last posting to Joanne’s Blog. What follows is a letter that Joanne wrote to be shared with all of us at this time. I read this letter out, following the eulogy, at the prayer service on March 25th. The previous posting contains the eulogy, which includes a letter written by Gord. Also, you will find a final posting on Joanne’s book of the week blog as well. Furthermore, I have added links to Gord’s email address and Joanne’s mom’s email address to the bar on the right hand side.

We will be compiling a summary of remembrances from the blog, and other sources. We encourage you post or forward your thoughts. For those of you on Facebook, we have set up a group call "Fare Thee Well Love". We would love to have you join.

Again, on behalf of all of Joanne’s family, thank you for sharing this journey with all of us and providing your support over the past few years.


27 March 2008

What kind of person wants to talk at their own funeral? Well for those of you who knew me at all, it won’t surprise you that I have a few things to say, and cannot miss this chance to do so. While it grieves me to leave this world “early”, I also want to express my gratitude for the wonderful life I have lived.

I have lived a life filled with love.

I grew up in a loving family, where I was supported to grow into a strong and confident person. The whole time I grew up I truly believed that my extended family all loved spending a lot of time together, and I think they did. My grandparents, aunts and uncles have been role models and loving supporters and taught me how a family should work, how to love each of us among us -- with whatever gifts or challenges each person has; and how to persevere, how to make the best of any situation. To endure whatever cannot be cured – and still feel grateful.

My parents have been generous, wise and selfless in their love and support. My sister Kelly and my brother Darryl (and their families) are all truly wonderful people who offer their companionship, friendship and support freely – without a second thought to what they receive back. I have been blessed with friends with whom I have shared great fun, a few tears, only a tiny bit of trouble, and … I’ve had an enriching career and had colleagues who extended much support and kindness.

I have had a happy marriage to a wonderful life partner, and I have experienced love expand exponentially as we were blessed with our wonderful children, Michelle, Craig and Brian.

Many of my friends and family have become fellow travelers with me on my journey with breast cancer. Over and over I have been overcome with the kindness that people show….It has been humbling to receive so much love, and this is what every bit of kindness has been.

So, although I have had a most ORDINARY life, it has been extraordinary in that I consider it so filled with love. Apart from this present problem of not living as long as I wanted and not sharing more time with all of you, I could not ask for any more of life.

I’ve seen many other ladies tell their friends or families that they would see them in butterflys or ladybugs or dragonflys, etc…. well, I’m not much for bugs, so this doesn’t appeal. I do love the sunshine, but it seems a bit of a burden to suggest you think of me every time you see that…. So, I would be content if you would simply think of me when you raise your glass to enjoy that love and time with your own friends and families….If I were around, you know I would join you with a cup of coffee or a glass of red wine.

With love and gratitude,


Joanne's Eulogy

I am extremely honoured to have the privilege to stand before you tonight and talk about my wonderful sister, Joanne.

She has been, and will continue to be, an inspiration to me and to many others as well.

As I thought about what to say tonight, it became clear to me that I had an impossible task. How can I possibly do justice to Joanne’s life in a few short words?

But I will try…

Joanne’s Journey, as we call the time she lived with breast cancer, has defined much of the last seven years of her life, as well as those of her family’s lives. During this time, she has demonstrated incredible wisdom, grace and dignity.

Quite recently, she said to me that “there is not one part of this that I accept”. And while she would never accept breast cancer, she would not let this affect her outlook and she faced its challenges with incredible resolve.

Through this, she has shown us how to approach the type of challenging issues that all of us will face at some point in our lives. This is a lesson that we should all be thankful for.
Joanne helped us along the way by being honest and by being willing to express her challenges, her feelings and by savouring the joy in every day.

Joanne was very articulate and wise. Throughout her life, she had a voracious interest in reading. She used this love of reading as a way of better understanding her world as well as the world around her. It is very fitting that she choose the quote on the back of the memorial card. It is referenced in one of her favourite books, If Today be Sweet, and it is fitting because it sums up her outlook on life and became, to the end, a rallying point for her family.

Along her journey, she inspired many people, including many of those that were providing her with care. She formed strong bonds with the Palliative Care team and these relationships provided her, and the entire family, with incredible support and insight along the way. We are very grateful for this.

She had the ability to connect with people; quickly and sincerely. One story that comes to mind happened only a few weeks ago and is that of a hospital porter who was responsible for moving Joanne, by stretcher, from her room in the Oncology ward to the radiation treatment room where she was receiving her final palliative radiation treatments. She would chat with Joanne for only two or three minutes at a time as they moved the short distance within the hospital. After only a couple of these short interactions with Joanne, this porter approached our mom to tell her how much Joanne had affected and inspired her. In only a few minutes, Joanne had been able to demonstrate such courage, honesty and dignity and had made this person feel that her small contribution to her care was meaningful.

Through her blog and her online breast cancer support groups, she touched countless people. The sense of community that emerged from these efforts was significant. So significant in fact, that several of her breast cancer or “bc sisters”, as they refer to themselves, travelled great distances to be her while she was alive and now again to be with all of us tonight.

One such “bc sister” NYCarol said to Joanne,

…you have made such a difference in the lives of so many people. Yes, your family, your close friends, but beyond that, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who visit this site and have been reassured or given information by you. Your sharing has been simply amazing....A legacy few ever achieve in their lifetimes....and you did it with intelligence, caring and humor.

Throughout this journey, her actions and words were compassionate, intelligent and brought comfort to those around her. In those that have supported Joanne (and this is many), a common thread emerged. It seemed that no matter how hard you tried to help and comfort Joanne, she would end up helping you.

Another of her "bc sisters”, who goes by the name “Tender”, described it best when she said to Joanne in a very recent post.

Incredulous! Instead of me helping to carry your load, you offer in your words, over and over again, your determination to teach us how to carry ours personally. What a remarkable woman you are Joanne. I thank you for your perseverance in keeping uplifting thoughts present, all the way, and in every way. You are teaching your children and us, true greatness in life.

as incredible as Joanne’s Journey was, it does not define her life.

Her Journey with breast cancer was simply another, and more recent, example of the type of person she was throughout all aspects of her life.

Joanne was many things, to many people.

For me, and my sister Kelly, Joanne was a wonderful sister.

For those that knew Joanne, it will not surprise you to hear that most of my early and most savoured memories of Joanne involve food.

I don’t really have a favourite of these memories, but if I did, it could be one which is also one of my fondest childhood memories; which involved playing Galloping Gourmet (a tv program from the late sixties) with Joanne, (being the oldest), as the illustrious chef and Kelly and I the eager audience ready to taken by the hand and run up to the table to taste the latest concoctions that she would produce (usually chocolate ice cream).

Or perhaps it is one of the many birthday cakes she baked for me, including the one that slid off the counter and onto the floor.

Or better yet, perhaps it was the time when my new found appreciation for cheesecake coincided with her interest in experimenting which resulted in a seemingly never-ending daily dose of new and delicious cheesecakes.

Later, while I was living in Montreal for university, I remember being surprised when a package of hand written recipe cards appeared in my mail box. She was so encouraging and gave me the confidence to try new things. I would not have been nearly as well fed those years and those recipes still form the basis for many of the things that I cook.

Several years later, I remember visiting Joanne and Gord and being in awe while witnessing the creation of the most delicious homemade soup I had ever tasted. It appeared seemingly out of nowhere; after only a short walk through her garden and a brief visit to the fridge, all the while being flavoured by a wonderful conversation. During which I was unable to get a word in edgewise.

These are small things, but as I have since learned from Joanne, there is great pleasure and significance in these everyday things.

When I asked Kelly about her impressions of Joanne from our childhood she recalled how generous she was of her time and her energy. Joanne always took such good care of us. When on long car trips, she kept us amused with the most amazing collection of activities that she would pull out at intervals from a box that she had created. Kelly remembers how meaningful it was for her, as the younger sister, to be included with Joanne and her friends. I recall the daily ritual of coming home from school to find Joanne, Kelly, Anne and several other her friends watching “Another World” on television.
I always felt welcome as well.

Joanne always made us feel special. This is something that we have both enjoyed witnessing in Joanne’s relationships with our children. She formed connections easily and sincerely.

For our parents, Joanne was a wonderful daughter.

Joanne placed great value in family and was instrumental in so many of our families’ traditions, rituals and gatherings. I cannot begin to try to speak on behalf of our parents, but I am certain that she brought great pride to our parents throughout all stages of her life.

Joanne was a wonderful wife for Gord and a wonderful mother to Michelle, Craig and Brian.

Joanne always spoke so highly of Gord and of her children and it is clear to me that this is the part of her life that she took the most pride in, and gained the most satisfaction from.

At this point, I will read a letter that Gord has asked me to read. He wrote it to Joanne in the past few days.

My dear, dear, love Joanne:

Words cannot adequately express the thoughts and feelings we are all experiencing but words are all we really have to express ourselves at times like this.

You have touched the lives of many people around the world but none so much as mine. You have shared my joy and sorrow (and there has been much more joy than sorrow). You have been a source of reason and conscience in my times of anger, my source of hope and comfort in times of fear and stress. You have given me the strength, courage and confidence to make tough decisions in my life and consoled me if they didn’t turn out as I expected.

You were a loving, devoted, encouraging mother who always put our children’s wants and needs ahead of your own and always had their best interests at heart.
Your courage, strength, generosity, wisdom and love extend beyond family and borders. As a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, colleague, employer and employee you always acted with respect, integrity, wisdom, and compassion.

I will always remember you as my girl who saw the glass as half full rather than half empty. (Except in the case of red wine in which case it was half full but needed filling) Everything was a challenge or an opportunity -- not an obstacle or a road block. Even in the toughest times you maintained hope, integrity, respect, dignity, and clarity of purpose. You loved life and lived it to its fullest. I know if you could say something to all of us right now you would say this: “even though the glass may seem empty right now, you know it is really still half full.”
I could go on and on but I know everyone would rather be celebrating your life than listening to me so I will end with this:

You were my navigator through life, my soul mate, my partner in all things and my very best friend.

You will be forever loved and missed.

Joanne was a successful Dietitian.

She excelled at her chosen profession and she made a real difference in the lives of those she worked with. She took great pride in her profession and worked to expand the role and respect for Dietitians across Canada. Recently, she became involved on the executive of the Canadian Society for Clinical Nutrition which advocates for a multi-disciplinary approach involving Dietitians, Doctors and Nurses. The respect for the science of Nutrition combined with the multi-disciplinary approach is very similar to the manner in which she embraced the medical team that cared for her while living with breast cancer. Once recognizing this, it is easier to understand her point of view that her approach to living with cancer was ordinary, however modest she may have been.

Joanne was intelligent, articulate and thoughtful.

I have always had an intense respect for her intellect. She excelled academically at all levels of her education. She possessed the gift of the perfect balance between pure academics, common sense and creative thinking. I enjoyed our many discussions on a wide range of subjects, most of which were fuelled by a good pot of coffee. Joanne always seemed to have either a strong interest in, or a working knowledge of just about any issue. She was much like our late Auntie Annie in that regard.

Joanne was a pillar in our extended family.

She occupied a unique position in my mom’s extended family. Being the oldest of a large group of cousins, she was a bridge between the adults and the kids. She could occupy both worlds at the same time and was accepted equally in each. She has had a significant impact on the lives of many of the members of our extended family. She nurtured special relationships with many of our Aunts and cousins that go far beyond the norm.

For all those that knew her, Joanne was a great friend.

Joanne was blessed with many, many incredible friendships. Her generous spirit and deep loyalty led to bonds that cannot be broken. Wherever their professional lives took them, Joanne and Gord struck deep and meaningful friendships. She was always extremely welcoming and gave freely of her time and energy. These friendships often extended beyond Joanne and several of her friends have become an important part of our family.

We are all better off for having shared her friendship.

Joanne’s life was far too short and this is a tragedy that cannot be adequately described.
However, her life was well lived. She made a difference and leaves a tremendous legacy.

She has helped us to move forward without her physically in our lives and we must honour this.

Of course, it is absurd to think that she will not be in our lives. She will never be far from our thoughts. We will savour our wonderful memories and share the lessons and legacies that she left us.

I will be reminded of Joanne while enjoying a very fine meal or when savouring a good cup of coffee. I will think of her when I read a particularly good book, especially one of her favourites. I will wish that she could enjoy a really special piece of dark chocolate. I will recognize her in her children. And I will smile as the wonderful memories flood back to be savoured and shared.

To Gord, who is such an important part of our family, to Michelle, Craig and Brian who we love so dearly, to my Parents and to the rest of my family, all I can say is this;

There will undoubtedly be difficult days ahead, but we will get through them and we will do it together. We will take comfort from her lessons and we will be thankful for all that she has given us. We will fulfill the promises we made to Joanne and we will do this by following her example.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

In Memoriam

At the age of 46, Joanne Patricia Schweitzer, of Regina, died peacefully on Wednesday, March 19th, 2008, of breast cancer.

Joanne was predeceased by grandparents James Condon Sr., Germaine (Carrière) Condon and Clara (Salamon) Maloney, and several aunts and uncles. She is survived by Gord, her husband of twenty-three years, daughter Michelle and son Craig of Winnipeg, and son Brian of Regina; parents Jim and Eileen Condon of Regina, sister Kelly (Gary) Sherlock of North Vancouver, brother Darryl (Karen) Condon of North Vancouver; grandfather William Maloney of Regina; parents-in-law Arnold and Jennie Schweitzer of Prairie River SK, sister-in-law Laurelle (Kevin) Borstmayer of Prairie River, brother-in-law Bret Schweitzer of Calgary, nieces Holly, Heather and Laurel Sherlock, Kate Condon, Lacey Borstmayer, nephews Niall Condon, Jared and Jayden Borstmayer; as well as numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.

Joanne was born in Regina on October 19, 1961 and received her education at St. Matthew’s Elementary School and Marian High School before graduating from the University of Saskatchewan in 1983. She also received an MBA from Athabasca University in 2000. Joanne was a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend. She had a successful career as a Registered Dietitian in various locations across the prairies including Kindersley and Tisdale in Saskatchewan, Edmonton and Grande Prairie in Alberta and most recently in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Gord and Joanne’s careers involved residence in several communities, and they both maintained lasting friendships with people from many areas of Canada. Joanne was an excellent cook and welcoming hostess to all visitors. She was an avid reader; and loved to travel (especially if shopping was involved). Her many needlework projects are treasured by their recipients. Her love of chocolate (and an occasional glass of red wine) is well known!

From the first diagnosis of breast cancer in June 2001, Joanne has bravely, honestly and courageously faced every challenge presented to her on this journey with cancer. In the last few years, these were especially frequent and difficult, but she managed to keep smiling and maintain a positive attitude. She endured the many painful surgeries and treatments with grace. Her amazing strength was an inspiration to everyone around her, and to those who maintained contact from a distance through her blog or e-mail. Through online groups or by personal contact, she was a tireless supporter to others facing similar challenges, and provided encouragement to individuals throughout the world.

Joanne’s family is forever indebted to the many caring and compassionate individuals at the Allan Blair Cancer Centre, especially Dr. Chalchal, John and the other nurses, as well as the volunteers and other staff. And to the personnel of the Regina Palliative Home Care program, we are forever grateful. Without exception, these dedicated caregivers provided continuous support in an efficient and dignified manner, always considerate of Joanne’s welfare and needs. Special thanks to Lorraine and the other home care nurses, and to Louise, Cliff, Barb, Danae, Joan, and all the other caring people who constantly helped us at home and in hospital. Thanks also to the compassionate and caring staff at Pasqua Hospital in 3B and 3A. Joanne also received excellent care and treatment under cancer programs in Alberta and Manitoba. Thank you to Janice Siemens and her family in Winnipeg for their never-failing support to the entire family. Special thanks also to Anne Bosgoed, and all the “Book Club” members for their constant support. To that special group of Joanne’s “sisters” at thanks for your never-failing love and support. Joanne was grateful for all the good wishes, prayers and support received from family and friends everywhere. There are hardly words to convey the depth of our gratitude to everyone.

A prayer service will be held on Tuesday March 25th, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. in the chapel of the Victoria Avenue Funeral Home, 2080 East Victoria Avenue, Regina, led by Palliative Services Chaplain Cliff Geiger. The Funeral Mass will be held on Wednesday March 26th, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. at Resurrection Roman Catholic Church, 3155 Windsor Park Road, Regina, Father Ken Koep officiating. Joanne will be buried in Lebret, where a private service for family members will be held.

In lieu of flowers, it was Joanne’s wish that donations be made either to Regina Palliative Care Inc. 4101 Dewdney Avenue, Regina S4T 1A5 or to the Joanne Condon Schweitzer Scholarship in Nutrition c/o Lisa Green, Development Officer, College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, 110 Science Place, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon SK S7N 5C9

May she rest in peace

A prayer service will be held on Tuesday March 25th, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. in the chapel of the Victoria Avenue Funeral Home, 2080 East Victoria Avenue, Regina. The Funeral Mass will be held on Wednesday March 26th, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. at Resurrection Roman Catholic Church, 3155 Windsor Park Road, Regina.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fare Thee Well Love

At 7:09 pm, Joanne died peacefully surrounded by loved ones. Her journey has been long and difficult and at last she can rest.

I will post again with more details once they are finalized. On behalf of the family, thank you for all of the support that you have given Joanne over the past few years.


19 March 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008

16 March 2008

Joanne returned to Pasqua Hospital today and is comfortable now in the Palliative ward. Her room is peaceful and the ward is well equipped to make it easier on everyone. Her symptoms are being well managed and she is now better able to focus her energy.

In the midst of yet another difficult day, Joanne was able to find some peace and even told Mom that “today was sweet” (a reference to one of Joanne’s favourite books, “If Today Be Sweet” by Thrity Umrigar – see blog posting dated Sunday, August 11, 2007 in Joanne’s book of the week blog). We agreed with Joanne that tomorrow would be sweet as well. All continue to do what is possible to make that be.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

15 March 2008

Hello again,

The Ides of March…

For the time being, Joanne remains at home. Michelle and Craig have returned from Winnipeg so the family is all together. Joanne’s aunt, Lorna Mae is here helping with her care and she is providing incredible support to all, but especially to Gord and Mom. Joanne remains comfortable and her symptoms are being well managed. At this point, it is likely that Joanne will return to the hospital in the next couple of days. I will continue to post with updates as things change.

Thanks again for your continued support.

15 March 2008

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Update - 9 March 2008


Darryl here, with a brief update on behalf of Joanne.

Joanne remains at home with the continued support of her family and wonderful care from the Palliative Care Services. Email greetings and cards are appreciated very much at this time. She fatigues easily so is focusing her energy on her family. Therefore, phone calls and visits are being limited to immediate family only.

We are all very grateful for the continued support that Joanne and the rest of the family are receiving.

9 March 2008

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bald is beautiful, a diffiuclt update

Well, some of you might be wondering what I am looking like these days and so here I am, this is a very recent photo. As promised, the radiation has caused 100 percent hair loss........ so it's completely bald again for me. To be honest, I didn't expect to leave the whole breast cancer treatment scene with hair, so it isn't really a big deal. Plus, a little comfort that the radiation is doing what it is supposed to be doing!

I am feeling quite fine these days, and thanks to my web of support, I am able to enjoy every minute of every day quite well. I am not exaggerating when I say that I can't wait for each new day to begin.

I had an oncologist appointment this week at which we were to discuss chemo, and whether or not it could bring me any benefit. Well, the time has come, and my oncologist does NOT feel like he can offier me very much via chemo, either through time, and definitely NOT through quality of life. It wasn't exactly new news, but still hit kind of hard, as this was kind of the final bridge to be crossed in decision making related to my active cancer treatment.

SO.... what this means is that I have decided that it is time to stop active treatment. I do have a very high level of trust in my oncologist, and I would want all my family and friends know that he has known my goals (more time even if it is chemo time) right from the start and has been both respectful and cooperative towards that end.

The focus of my care now becomes comfort. I will have any treatment that would improve my care and treatment, but nothing aimed primariy for stopping the cancer. And so, the time I have been given by the palliative radiation is the time I have. And that, as we all know is a mystery that none of us can begin to guess at, but of course, I can't help hoping for the most there can be, life is just too darn good to leave.

It's yet more emotional adjustment for the family, but I would say that everyone, kids, my parents, siblings etc... are all graceful and very focused on helping me. It is humbling, but also it is so nice that I cannot utter one thing except my love and gratitude.

I'm getting questions about visits again. This is a very tough call, because I must budget my energy with care and I would please ask you to check with my mom or Gord or myself. My energy is very limited, and especially when the kids are all home, Ifeel that my time must be their's.

I usually am very good with short phone calls now, I seem to have regained my strength for that, although and email or snail mail is ALWAYS managable. Email is the very easiast and so far, I get from my bed to desk pretty easily.

I send lots of love to all you, my wonderful friends and family, without you over these several years, I simply don't know what I would have done. Joanne